Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Is a Filmmaker’s Personal Life Relevant to a Film? Another Look at ‘Blood Brother’

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Blood Brother was a festival hit in 2013 and has also received praise from high-profile critics over the year. But if there’s more to a story that what appears on screen, is it unethical for a filmmaker not to tell the audience more when it might cast the film in a completely new light?

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
— Corinthians 9:22

Is a documentary filmmaker’s personal life relevant to how an audience perceives his or her documentaries? Most industry folks try to judge a film purely by what happens between the opening and closing credits — directors would certainly prefer things that way — but that’s an ideal. Sometimes, we have to look outside the frame.

Neither documentary directors, nor their films, function in a vacuum. That’s true of fiction, but it’s even more so for non-fiction. Documentaries are about the real world, created by a person from the real world, who has something to say about the real world. Never is this more relevant than when the director provides first-person narration or appears on camera in their film.

I am thinking of the documentary Blood Brother, directed by Steve Hoover. Hoover is a member of the evangelical Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ, but his faith is never referenced in the documentary, nor has it been part of the mainstream discussion. Why does it matter? Let me try to connect the dots.

When I first heard about the film, I was enthusiastic. Blood Brother follows Hoover’s best friend Rocky Braat, “a disenchanted young American drifting through India,” as it was described to me by producer Danny Yourd long before anyone had seen the film. Braat selflessly provides help to poor HIV-infected children in that country, and over the course of Blood Brother transforms from an alienated young man to one finding himself though loving and being loved by the children in India. It’s very graphic in its depiction of the suffering of the children — and of Braat’s emotions. It’s also very beautiful. Hoover tells the story from his perspective, as a filmmaker trying to understand what his best friend is doing.

That sounded like a truly worthy documentary. I wrote about it before it went to Sundance this year, as well as after, and I became part of the hype machine, linked to on the Blood Brother website, as the film tore through the festival circuit, becoming one of the most popular docs at festivals this year. It won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and amassed a pile of awards from other festivals.

But outside of the festival circuit, things went quiet. The film didn’t get picked up by a major distributor. I caught up with the film at Hot Docs but was flummoxed by what I saw. I felt that there was something not quite right about it. Was it that I wasn’t comfortable with how beautiful it was in its depiction of the suffering? Despite its best efforts, was this another entry in the “white savior” film canon? There was something I couldn’t put my finger on.

There was a strange lack of context to the film, which reviewers from the L.A. Times and the Village Voice, among others, have noted. It does keep the viewer focused on Braat and it simulates his journey to redemption, so I didn’t see any reason to knock it. And I figured the film had enough champions — from Morgan Spurlock and other top filmmakers to various festival juries — so it didn’t need me. It got a glowing review in The New York Times before its New York theatrical release last month.

And then I noticed Christopher Campbell’s Nonfics review of the film, in which he writes, “Many will see Blood Brother as primarily a film about Braat and about the kids. They’ll see him as a selfless, saintly character and the orphans as being in need. And maybe it won’t bother anyone to know that he’s basically a Christian missionary who has been converting the kids.”

Huh? I never saw any of that in the film. Not even an inkling. Nor had I heard anyone else talk about it.

Campbell cites a website and credits another writer for tipping him off to this information and spends a couple of paragraphs on the subject, summing up with the idea that the film “proves the worth of not taking documentaries simply on their own, regardless of what you think about any extra-textual circumstances or purpose.”

Reading Campbell’s review was an “aha!” moment for me. Yourd had contacted me again, but I didn’t follow through because there was something about Blood Brother that still wasn’t adding up, and this might have been it: Could there be a Christian subtext in the film, one that I, and almost everyone I know or have read, didn’t catch?

Why is this relevant? I’m going to get to that. And why am I taking so long to get to it? I’m drawing this out on purpose. I’m burying those bits because I don’t want this story to function like a Gawker snipe or as a sound bite. Doc Soup has always been for filmmakers and close watchers of documentary film, and I believe the issues raised here have complicated and significant implications for both. I didn’t bring this to The New York Times, where I write about documentary, because it would have been cast differently. I had written about how the pro-nuclear power documentary Pandora’s Promise had gone against the ideological grain of the documentary and film festival communities for the Times, and although this felt related, I wanted to treat this with careful consideration, and try my best to not allow the issues be misconstrued.

After reading Campbell’s review, I researched any criticism I could find about Blood Brother. I found no mentions of Hoover’s Christian faith in the reviews or any of the interviews with Hoover, including his own first-person account for Filmmaker magazine, in which he wrote about how and why he made the film, with no reference to anything nearing spirituality.

In a 4,000-word Q&A with the Sag Harbor Express, however, Hoover does mention how close he was with Braat, and that they would bring homeless people, some of them drug-addicted, off the street to live with them. “We had some spiritual changes when we were in college,” Hoover says. “I was more influenced by that and inspired by Rocky.” But the journalist didn’t follow that thread.

As open and free-wheeling as we like to think the Internet is, it’s actually broken up into tribes. In the mainstream and film world, there has been virtually nothing on Hoover’s faith. But in the Christian online world, the story is very different.

At the website of the International Churches of Christ, an affiliation of churches that claims Hoover as one its disciples, Blood Brother is considered a “disciple-made documentary.” The site gives the film a thumbs up. “Well done Rocky and Steve,” it says in a post dated October 19, 2013. “Please be praying for Blood Brother to win an Oscar nomination by the Academy Awards for the 2013 Best Documentary.”

The film is praised on national religious sites like Disciples Today and local church sites like this one in Illinois.

Many appear to be supporting the film from afar, but there are also those who are closer to Hoover, such as Caleb Lombardi and James Tomol, both of whom attended Braat’s wedding in India. They discuss their Christianity and Braat’s trip to India on their website. “Many of the teens have become Christians by [Braat's] example and leadership in the community,” their site says. “He is a man of impeccable integrity and character whose sole purpose is to love like Christ.” Back to these guys later.

But if it’s any indication that the Christian themes in Blood Brother are hard to catch, go no further than David Schaal’s review of the film for a Christian website owned by a self-described “evangelical think tank” called the Brehm Center.

“While you never hear it in the movie that Rocky is a follower of Jesus Christ, all through the movie you see it. I kept telling myself, ‘Either this guy is a Christ Follower, or God is using him to teach me what a true Christ Follower looks like!’” Schaal writes. “I was happy to learn through talking with Rocky Braat, that he is indeed a follower of Jesus Christ. In conclusion, this film begs for a response. How will I respond to this message of being Jesus in the flesh to others?”

I also found in Hoover and Yourd’s previous work, a music video for a band called House of Heroes — you can watch it on GodTube — for which Yourd and Hoover received a nomination for a Gospel Music Association’s Dove Award. Unlike other directors, such as Michel Gondry and David Fincher, Hoover doesn’t list his work with House of Heroes on IMDb. There also isn’t any mention of Blood Brother on the Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ website, which strikes me as odd if two of its members made a startlingly effective documentary. Wouldn’t it want to trumpet their success?

What I did find on the church’s website made me uncomfortable. It’s an evangelical church, first of all. These guys don’t mess. They think I, and probably you, are going to hell. “We believe that those outside of Christ are lost,” it says on the site. “To this end, we practice a robust evangelistic outlook and use our personal bible study groups to introduce and train others in the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ. We practice lifestyle and neighborhood EVANGELISM and see this as our ULTIMATE MISSION as a congregation.”

Those CAPS, by the way, aren’t mine.

What does any and all of this mean in regards to Blood Brother? I wasn’t sure. But it seemed like the time to go to the source.

I set up an interview with Hoover, who spoke to me from Los Angeles, where he was supporting the release of the film. Hoover told me that he is, indeed, a member of the Greater Pittsburgh Church of Christ, and that Braat was, but that he might not be anymore, technically, because he had moved to India.

I asked him why he wasn’t more open about his and Braat’s Christianity, and he disagreed with me that it wasn’t in the film, and that, in fact, “in every major situation in the film, an aspect of Rocky’s spirituality comes up,” he said. “There were times when I thought I showed it too much. I thought it might make people uncomfortable.”

Hoover said he was bothered by the suggestion that his film might be secret Christian propaganda. He said that Rocky went to India without an agenda and that he “never went with a missionary perspective or to convert the kids.”

“What I created, and what Rocky did, was completely independent of the church,” he said. “I had zero personal connection with him going and zero understanding. I didn’t understand what motivated him to do it. I just wanted to make a film about my friend.”

To connect the film to his Christian faith would be a mistake, Hoover insisted repeatedly. “It’s an island to itself. It’s just Rocky’s story,” he said. “I am not an evangelical filmmaker. I am a filmmaker. I am not interested in pushing Christianity in my filmmaking. I tell people this all the time. It’s not in my spiritual DNA.”

When I asked him about church doctrine, he indicated that it wasn’t relevant. As for being part of an evangelist church, he replied, “In every church’s mission statement evangelism is a biblical teaching principle.” I will leave it to others to follow up on The International Church of Christ, but I’ll just say that there may be a lot more there, there.

Hoover’s point was that it’s OK to be a believer and a filmmaker. Of course it is. I’m not disputing that. But a closer watching of Blood Brother suggests that Hoover may have crafted the film in such a way that it can be received in different ways. Secular audiences can see it as a secular story, and Christian audiences can see it as a religious one. It’s quite masterful, I must say.

But the notion that a documentary can be an island is just not true. Even if we are to take all of Hoover’s points on face value, it doesn’t mean that his faith isn’t all over that movie. The question is, have audiences been misled in a way that should be challenged?

In the film, Hoover portrays Braat as being a lost soul — a good guy who had a troubled childhood and never connected to his father. He went to India to seek “authenticity,” we’re told in the film. And through his narration, Hoover says he can’t understand why his friend would go off to India and live with the poor like this.

But if these two have been best friends for a decade, and they’ve slept in the same room for many years, and they took in the poor and rehabilitated them, and they were baptized together for the same church, it stretches my credulity to believe that Hoover and Braat wouldn’t have ever considered the Christian implications of Braat’s sense of longing and desire to help in India. Or that Hoover’s telling of that story wouldn’t somehow be related to his Christianity.

From John the Baptist through Jesus himself, up to Mother Teresa and beyond, there’s a pretty strong precedent to Christians ridding themselves of worldly goods to live with, and help the poor. As well as those who bear witness to such acts.

But Hoover casts Braat’s journey as a more generic one — an abused young man is disconnected from his father, then finds a family as caretaker of orphans. But what about the church they were a part of for so many years? Whether or not he could find a sense of belonging and community with his fellow Christians, including Hoover, is surely relevant.

And whatever truth there may or may not be in Hoover’s contention that all Christian churches preach evangelism, there is a clearly a spectrum to how much converting a particular church believes in. I think it’d be fair to call an evangelist church on the extreme side of the evangelical.

In one of his sermons, Hoover’s minister, Brett Miller, talks of “testifying” to God’s impact as a way to spread the gospel. There are different ways to win souls, he says. You can do it by just chatting with a neighbor. But you have to ask yourself as he does, “Are we changing hearts and minds?”

It’s wording Braat himself uses in the film, describing how he is “winning the hearts of the men and women by winning the hearts of their children.” He also refers to his work as a “mission,” but it can again be interpreted in secular terms.

Miller is a great, accessible speaker, by the way. He’s energetic and fun. He refers to his fellow Christians as “bro” and “brother” and “sister” — something worth considering when thinking about the title of Hoover’s film.  He’s also savvy about modern culture. In one sermon, he talks about how he loves movies, but that he is concerned about their dark messages, because he “understands metaphorical speech.” He was an English major, he says, and he didn’t “fall off the turnip truck.”

It works both ways. On the church website, there’s a link to a video clip promoting a “2020 Vision” for the church that calls for rejuvenating the churches. In it, there are rebirth images taken from Hollywood films, such as The Matrix, Superman and Iron Man, layered with the text “for the sake of Christ.”

These guys are aware of the subtextual power of movie making.

And if Braat’s trip to India is totally disconnected from his church, is it just sheer circumstance that lands him at an orphanage run by the Pennsylvania-based HOPE worldwide, which was founded by the International Churches of Christ? Apparently. Hoover writes in the Filmmaker article that Braat “stumbled” upon those kids.

Watching the film with all of this in mind, I can not help see Christianity as being sewn into the DNA of Blood Brother. It helps explain why Braat would marry an Indian woman he hardly seems to know. Without that knowledge, it seems puzzling, but if you throw in the Christian factor — the woman he marries is also a Christian — there’s so much more logic to it. (You can find it in the church website; “marriage relationships of Christians are to be pursued with only those who ‘belong to the Lord.’”)

In a particularly heart-breaking sequence, one of the boys nearly dies. Braat selflessly cares for him, wiping the boils on his flesh. It’s like Schaal says, his actions are Jesus-like, and we see it in graphic digital camera detail. Perhaps Hoover sees the suffering on a different level than most other filmmakers — as biblical allegory as well as the real blood and pus right before him. Perhaps Hoover doesn’t see the child as just a child but also as a child of God, and that’s why he shows him ailing in such unflinching, yet loving, detail.

In the sequence, Braat invokes God and speaks of praying, but such invocations are almost secular given the extreme situation. I missed it. The viewers I talked with also missed it. Many an atheist would call on God in such a moment. But my primary concern isn’t so much Braat as it is Hoover. At the end of that scene, Hoover says, “Rocky believes that God saved Surya’s life. The doctors and nurses say that Rocky saved Surya’s life.”

What does this mean? Braat could be right, or the doctors and nurses could be right. Or both could be wrong. Or, what if they’re both right? Is that possible? In the law of transitive properties, if a = b and b = c, then a = c. If you’re a devout Christian, and a believer in the Trinity, that sort of thinking should be very familiar. That would make Braat’s acts like the acts of Jesus Christ.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” That’s John 4:16. I picked that up from the Three Virtues site. That’s the one run by the two young avowedly Christian young men, Lombardi and Tomol. Lombardi was the photographer at Braat’s wedding, and Tomol is the founder of the organization Living to Inspire Global Healing Today, or LIGHT, which appears in the opening credits and in a call to action in the closing credits, and of which Hoover is listed as a contact. In their blog, they connect Surya’s near-death to a passage in the bible entitled, “Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Boy.”

Lombardi and Tomol do not speak for Hoover, but it’s certainly interesting to see how his friends cast their work differently than he does. In a video short on Vimeo, while sensitive folk rock plays in the background, the two speak to the camera about experiencing the poverty and suffering of India. Lombardi says that they’re “down on that level. Getting down with them. Being poor with them.”

And while the “upper classes” don’t care, and the poor are “cursed by the gods,” there is one man working for them — their friend, Rocky Braat. They say that they’re creating another orphanage that will take care of the kids who age out of Braat’s orphanage.

“We just honestly want to help and we want to show our disciples and brothers and sisters the love of Christ,” Tomol says.

We see two young white guys who’ve come to India to do good and who seem quite naïve about their place in the geo-political history of Christians doing work in developing nations. It’s a far less sophisticated approach than that of Blood Brother.

In Blood Brother, when Braat and Hoover weep on camera in response to the tragic lives they encounter, it’s moving. But it’s a little weird watching them break down while the Indians seem puzzled, even consoling them when it’s their own who are dying. It suggests to me a cluelessness about cultural relativism that might best be explained by not only a lack of education in post-colonial politics, but also in their seeing all of this in biblical terms.

Look, I get it. Hoover just wants to be known as a filmmaker. In the same way that Gore Vidal didn’t believe his sexuality should be relevant to his writing, Hoover doesn’t think we should care about his relationship with God. He wants his movie to be universal.

He wants us to see what he wants us to see. That’s true for all filmmakers. But, for months, Blood Brother has received a pass from journalists for its mysteries. There are pieces in Blood Brother that appear to be missing, manipulated or hidden because I believe Hoover didn’t want certain facts to be known. That should raise questions — it goes against a de facto standard of disclosure in documentary filmmaking.

Hoover says he did not have a Christian agenda making the film. It’s up to you if you want to connect the dots the way I have. But, I should add, these questions become more pointed when you remember that the credits direct viewers to the charity LIGHT. Is there an appropriate amount information provided by Hoover’s documentary, or even on LIGHT’s website, to make an informed decision to donate? Presidential candidate Barack Obama had to answer for his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He confronted those issues and was able to move on — and get elected. Hoover might not want us to go there, but I think this is the price of membership in his church.

I hope three things come from me raising this issue. One, that we can have a constructive discussion about when and whether a filmmaker’s personal life is relevant to a discussion about his or her film. Two, if Hoover puts himself in his next film, about a rogue Ukrainian priest who goes to extreme measures to get drug-addicted youth off the streets, that he considers acknowledging his past doing similar work and mentioning how his faith relates to how he tells that story. And, third, that Blood Brother gets that Oscar nomination. Hoover is a good filmmaker and Blood Brother‘s cause, as it is presented in the film, is more than just.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Another question

    What organization is handling all the charity funds the filmmakers say they are raising for the kids? What is the money being used on exactly?

    • Gregory T.

      I was at a Q&A and this came up. The money isn’t going to any religious org. It’s a new non-profit that will provide halfway housing to the kids when they age out, help give them education and support when they become independent. Also profits from the film are going to a couple diff aids org’s iirc.

      • sam

        “Show the world the fruits of Christianity and they will applaud. Show them Christianity and they will attack” .

        • Jerec

          I applaud you Tom for having the guts to write this article. You brought to light what every viewer of this documentary should know about…the back story. Keep up the great work!

    • Tom Roston

      My understanding is that the money goes to LIGHT which basically is set up to fund Braat’s work in India. Whether that makes it a religious org or not, is not clear. Or maybe it’s open to interpretation. The same goes for if it goes to a halfway home run by Tomol and Lombardi, as noted in the piece.

      • Rocky Braat

        Hi Tom, to answer the questions on funding whenever I see a need on the children I do all i can to meet it. We have sponsored some older children to go to higher studies. I employ one of the kids who aged out, who is to weak to work a regular Indian job. We have paid for people funerals, Sponsor food, clean water, Medication. Even to this day I still live in the same house. I just want to help people and I do my best to make sure the funds hit the beneficiary not some Organization. Anything I have bought for myself other then food rent and my 50 dollar phone bill comes from my book royalties. I hope that helps.

  • http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/ Christopher Campbell

    Thank you for all of this, Tom. Not just because it was inspired by my review. I would like to give some credit, though, to Daniel Walber, a critic with whom I co-host The Realness podcast. I think he was the first to mention a presumption that Rocky was a Christian missionary as far as it had got me thinking about the issue.

    • Rocky Braat

      Hi Tom and Christopher,
      Actually I am a christian. As far a minster, pastor, priest, evangelical, Or any other church type term I hold not title or position of any sort. Not church has ever come and help me or taught what i was doing was important or essential to being a christian. Honestly I read the bible. Love jesus and saw a 45 minute documentary on mother tersea I knew I was Never going to love people just attending a service once a weak. For some people they like that and thats not for me to judge. Even in the movie I said I hated kids and i did I that they were annoying I wanted to go see the house of the dying where mother teresa worked. I thought that was where I was going to learn to get were ever it is I wanted to go then. IF you guys are ever in India come visit us and have food in my home my wife Is a good cook.

  • Tom G.

    This feels like an attack piece yet I don’t see why, you clearly have an agenda yourself it seems.

    You say that “Secular audiences can see it as a secular story, and Christian audiences can see it as a religious one.” which can be said about many films, yet you list it as a negative. As an athiest I’m not interested in watching religious films (they just don’t appeal to me) but watching a film by christian filmmakers is not a negative if they can respect the audience enough not to make it a sermon. And it seems clear that they did what they could to not alienate the viewer while addressing Rocky’s faith.

    Also in your own logic, if these people are such amazing Christians why would they lie about Rocky not being a Missionary? Isn’t that one of the ten commandments?

    You’re “connecting the dot’s” seems far reaching and pathetic at times and you negate any strong points you have by including trash like this “Miller is a great, accessible speaker, by the way. He’s energetic and
    fun. He refers to his fellow Christians as “bro” and “brother” and
    “sister” — something worth considering when thinking about the title of
    Hoover’s film.” This is Fox News level smearing where you take quotes from people who aren’t the filmmakers and try to have them speak for them.

    You’re a ridiculous conspiracy theorist and it saddens me that you may convince other people that there’s shady business here.

    • Tom Roston

      I appreciate your response which I consider your own critical thinking. I’m doing the same with Blood Brother. It’s not an attack. And as for Miller, I am bringing him into the picture because A) I genuinely think he’s an engaging speaker B) because I think he represents a new, younger form of religious-speak and Christian culture which I believe might explain a lot about Hoover. It also seems worth noting that “brother” is often used in the church; seems entirely relevant when considering the film’s title.

      • Mary

        It may interest you to know that the original title was “Uncle America”. They had to change it for copyright reasons. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/endeavor/uncle-america-a-documentary

      • jmk

        It’s also worth noting (which you didn’t in your article Tom) that the children of the orphanage call Rocky “Rocky Anna,” Anna meaning brother in Tamil.

  • Dan Parris

    What if he included the faith element more in the film and been more blatant about it? What do you think would have happened to the film? Still got Sundance’s top award?

    • Tom Roston

      At the least, it would have caused a lot of discussion about the subject, which I think would have been very fruitful.

      • Todd

        Tom, That response is BS and you know it. It would not have gotten any discussion because it would not have past jury.

      • procksi

        Not knowing anyone involved in the film my guess would be that they were focused on two things: 1. the kids/families and 2. Rocky’s experience. Why does that turn into a religious editorial?

  • Stan B

    One thing that’s interesting is that you neglect to mention that the film was produced by and funded by Animal (animalvfx.com), not Hoover’s church. It also seems that Rocky went to India without church funding and without any “missionary” training. As an ex-evangelical I can tell you that people acting on their own without bowing to the existing authority structures doesn’t go over too well. If Rocky had wanted to be a missionary there are dozens of organizations that would have paid him a salary to be there. The film was also partnered with Act V (actfive.org), definitely not an evangelical organization. My guess is that evangelicals will see this as way too spiritualistic/vague to help them promote their ideology. And my guess is that’s why Steve didn’t want to put a bunch of God-talk in the film, because the christian right would co opt if for their own purposes.

  • gmolodtsov

    Great investigation, thanks!

    I’m programming documentary sections of the Moscow International Film festival and we did screen “Blood Brother” in Russia with a huge sucess, so now we try to put it to our TV-slot for the world best creative documentaries at “Kultura” channel.

    And we don’t have any problems or questions regarding the religious side of the film – we appreciate that it shows the Character with a brilliant image style.
    this point of the religious background gives me point to push the film on TV – as we have discussion show after the screening and in our mostly Chrisitan country this might be a good point for the discussion – http://smotrimshow.ru/en

  • none

    Why is it Tom, that when anything good Is made or done there are people always finding away to poke holes in it. What do you hope to gain by this? I agree with Tom G it seems as though you have an agenda yourself, but ask yourself is it worth shooting down something that could help bring more light to those living with AIDS around the world, the poverty, the loneliness that some children have to endure or the fact that by helping make sure this film fails, you are helping the American people to continue to be blind to the suffering others by in sighting a religious battle instead of seeing that it is a film about humanity and the human heart.

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  • Cathy Ann Armour

    http://www.bloodbrotherfilm.com/blog-post/open-letter-from-blood-brother-director-steve-hoover/

    I read this and the director’s response. I witnessed the screening at Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis. Afterwards someone asked “what would lead someone to decide this was their mission in life and give up everything for it?” It brought up good conversation. As an evangelical Christian, I HOPED that it was Christ’s love that prompted Rocky – but that wasn’t implied and I’m glad it wasn’t. Christ came quietly into the world and went about serving humbling, and without judgment or an “agenda”. Whatever prompts you to decide what your mission in life is, go and do that good! Best to Rocky, Steve and may many be inspired by the film! You have my admiration for a story well told and lives well-lived. Carry on.

  • None

    I saw the movie Blood Brother in February. I think it is interesting that it is getting backlash such as your article. Regardless of beliefs, here is someone out there doing his best to make the world a better place, why is anyone trying to defeat him? If he believes in Jesus and it fuels his heart to serve people in this capacity, let him. If kids decide they want to follow Jesus, because they have learned about his love from Rocky, let them. No one else is investing in their lives!

    At the end of the day, it wasn’t per say the movie that affected me, but Rocky’s example. Despite what anyone might think, finding a hidden agenda during that hospital scene seems like a pretty weak case. I don’t know if I would have the guts or emotional stability to endure that, nor could anyone else say that endless they have walked in those shoes. This article reminded me of Teddy Roosevelt’s Speech, Citizenship In A Republic. The well-known excerpt is below:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done
    them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs,who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at
    the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  • JB

    There is always one. Let’s trash the first artfully made, compassionate and hauntingly beautiful film that had no agenda other than showcasing a story that made you think outside yourself. I din’t even know the guys were “Christians” until this attack. So now we rip apart crap like Fireproof (agenda driven crap for trying to win/make converts) and now solid works of art like Blood Brother. No one can win I guess. Yes, shame on you Steve for making a great piece that united human kind and made us think of others … so crafty with your hidden “Christian” agenda. Tom, you are the one with the agenda and a bone to pick. More negative crap on the internet spewed as fact when really it’s all just assumptions you are making about something you know about, not something you know.

  • Josh Miller

    Dear Mr. Roston, if the result of Rocky’s faith is that forgotten, suffering children have someone who cares for them, loves them, and gives them hope – wouldn’t we want that kind of faith to spread so that more suffering children were cared for?

  • John Malutinok

    I’d classify this as a “cheap shot” article. Your impeccable investigative skills revealed that Hoover has a faith and belongs to a church-one that he does not disclaim. The implicit tone here is that of an expose gotcha piece. It is unsavory, mistaken, and elitist. You seem to believe that strong faith is dispositive of good work. I don’t understand that position.

    In leaving the details of his life out of the films he makes, Hoover follows in a line of non-realist artists who frame their art deliberately and with intention-certainly a strength of the film.

    Ernest Hemingway was a depressed, alcoholic, masochist and I’m in love with his work. It stands alone. Is it influenced by his life? Absolutely. Do his struggles characterize his work? To a point, sure. Is everything that happened in his life in his work? Metaphorically maybe but factually, no. Let the artist frame his work how he prefers. Making exceptions when it comes to faith starts to look prejudicial, and is certainly unfair.

    This was a disappointing commentary on an excellent film. Here is a filmmaker who seeks to bring relief to a suffering people under the banner of his faith. If he confronts the viewer with anything, it is not his personal beliefs; it is the poverty the protagonist is faced with. In looking to find something wrong with that, you’ve come up short.

    • Paul

      John, that is an extremely elegant and neutral response. Thanks for the clarity.

    • Tom Wilcox

      Well put.

  • Paul

    This rambling article is deeply offensive and paranoid. Enough said.

  • Stan B

    As Steve says in his article, I don’t think Tom wrote this to be a jerk. He asks questions that Steve felt the need to answer, but that doesn’t make Tom an SS officer! Let’s keep this civil.

    • Paul

      Take a look at the gist of the comments here, Stan. The P.O.V. DocSoup blog is the farthest thing from a magnet for the religious right (and it’s not like the Drudge Report linked to it). At a certain point, cream floats to the top — and wasteful residue sinks to the bottom.

  • Tracy

    “marriage relationships of Christians are to be pursued with only those who ‘belong to the Lord.’”)

    “We believe that those outside of Christ are lost,” it says on the site. “To this end, we practice a robust evangelistic outlook and use our personal bible study groups to introduce and train others in the lifestyle and mission of Jesus Christ. We practice lifestyle and neighborhood EVANGELISM and see this as our ULTIMATE MISSION as a congregation.”

    Looked up the church website out of curiosity.. it doesn’t say any of this; that you claimed it to say. Please if you are going to write an article, don’t blatantly lie.

  • Exetarian

    Honestly, since when is missionary work nefarious? Whether someone does charitable work for secular or sectarian reasons, it ought not matter. Those who seek to convert others to a faith aren’t doing so as part of some scheme… it’s part and parcel of a desire to improve their lives. So what?

  • lisalmn@aol.com

    Thanks for posting this inquiry. I thought the film was powerful. The power swept me past the questions of context, and the fuzziness of how Rocky found the orphanage. To me, the ethical issue isn’t the faith of the filmmaker – it’s whether the film tells the truth about the people in the film, particularly Rocky. ‘truth’ is a tricky thing in docs, as we all know. docs tell a subjective truth, a point of view. If Christian beliefs truly dictated Rocky’s actions, I would have wanted to know that – ie, was he really a disaffected wandering young man, or did he go to India already knowing he wanted to find a way to do good, to make a difference? If it’s the latter, then the filmmaker massaged the ‘truth’ to make a better story – we all do that, but there’s a line after which something is a bit glib, or, worse, disingenuous. As a viewer, I also want to know if Rocky was preaching to the kids, seeking their conversion, etc. It just feels like there’s a big difference between altruistic acts done in the context of a faith (which is beautiful) vs altruistic acts stumbled into and those very acts transforming you (also beautiful, but different)… at least to me, there is. Thank you for raising these complex issues. I would love to hear more about the ‘truth’ behind the scenes. Lisa Leeman

    • Todd

      Lisa, I would like to respond only to one aspect of your post, also hoping others will read this as well. I agree that it would be very important to know if “evangelism” was a core motivator in Rocky’s move to India.

      That said, I think we can dismiss “evangelism” as his motivation for going back and staying. I think we can make a direct comparison to Mother Terisa. As Tom pointed out, no one questions her motivation. I think it is safe to say that mother Terisa preached about Jesus to the people she served. That does not mean she served them so that she could preach. She genuinely loved and cared for them. That is why she was there. Her faith drove her to love. Her love drove her to serve. Her service proved her to be different and drew people to ask what makes her different. Why would she forgo her own comfort to serve someone she didn’t know.

      The same could be said of Rocky. I find it hard to believe that anyone would sit in that hospital for 4 months, if their only agenda was to get “one more convert notch on their belt”. But I can see mother Terisa doing it because she genuinely love that child. I saw nothing but love in that one act. Can Rocky be that

  • Dennis Allan

    Hey, Tom! I appreciate you taking the time to dive deeper into the topics and themes presented in Blood Brother. A few responses to your article. I’m not sure that I find the conclusions you’ve drawn by delving into the filmmaker’s background altogether valid. I would imagine that someone could read back through all of the articles and blog posts you’ve published, then do some research on the professors you studied under at Brown University, and then draw specific conclusions about an agenda you may be advancing. I think it’s fair to explore the ways that a filmmaker’s or writer’s educational, familial, or spiritual backgrounds may influence their work, but that it’s a stretch to conclude any one specific part of an artist’s background leading to a secret agenda being advanced through their work. Should I assume that every filmmaker and writer is attempting to advance an agenda simply because they’ve been impacted and shaped by educational, familial, or spiritual influences? One of the things that I believe makes Blood Brother an intriguing film is that it clearly presents human suffering and a human attempt to selflessly love others in ways that don’t immediately align with our pre-existing categories. The human suffering and selfless love presented are difficult to internalize because we don’t often see suffering and we don’t often see selfless love. So, we watch a film like Blood Brother and we try to fit it into our pre-existing categories rather unsuccessfully. Which, I think, leads to two different potential responses: 1) we seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories, or 2) we try harder to find the proper category in which to place the film and its themes. It’s easier to opt for the second response. If we choose the second response, I think we end up with your article. Rather than having to seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories for suffering and selfless love, we can choose to dismiss the film as secretive Christian propaganda. However, as I’ve watched the film with people who seek to model their lives after Jesus they’ve wondered aloud about the subject’s and filmmakers’ spiritual background, unable to draw the specific conclusions that you have.

  • Dennis Allan

    Hey, Tom! I appreciate you taking the time to dive deeper into the topics and themes presented in Blood Brother. A few responses to your article. It seems like you stretched quite a bit by delving into the filmmaker’s background and then seeking to draw specific conclusions from it. I would imagine that someone could read back through all of the articles and blog posts you’ve published, then do some research on the professors you studied under at Brown University, and then draw specific conclusions about an agenda you may be advancing. I think it’s fair to explore the ways that a filmmaker’s or writer’s educational, familial, or spiritual backgrounds may influence their work, but that it’s a stretch to conclude any one specific part of an artist’s background leading to a secret agenda being advanced through their work. Should I assume that every filmmaker and writer is attempting to advance an agenda simply because they’ve been impacted and shaped by educational, familial, or spiritual influences? One of the things that I believe makes Blood Brother an intriguing film is that it clearly presents human suffering and a human attempt to selflessly love others in ways that don’t immediately align with our pre-existing categories. The human suffering and selfless love presented are difficult to internalize because we don’t often see suffering and we don’t often see selfless love. So, we watch a film like Blood Brother and we try to fit it into our pre-existing categories rather unsuccessfully. Which, I think, leads to two different potential responses: 1) we seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories, or 2) we try harder to find the proper category in which to place the film and its themes. It’s easier to opt for the second response. If we choose the second response, I think we end up with your article. Rather than having to seek to enlarge our understanding and create new categories for suffering and selfless love, we can choose to dismiss the film as secretive Christian propaganda. However, as I’ve watched the film with people who seek to model their lives after Jesus they’ve wondered aloud about the subject’s and filmmakers’ spiritual background, unable to draw the specific conclusions that you have.

  • FB

    The director posted a reaction to this article: http://www.bloodbrotherfilm.com/blog-post/open-letter-from-blood-brother-director-steve-hoover/

    Also, came across this interview from Sundance where they explain some things: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hKSQv9vf9g. He says that his motive on the first trip was photography, which isn’t mentioned in the film. He does mention wanting to go to the Home of the Dying in the film. He said he was looking for raw material to take photos, maybe a bit selfish and exploitive, but I get it. He also says he was going to leave the orphanage but chose not to, which wasn’t mentioned in the film either. He describes any spiritual ambition as a “soft motive”. I’ve also read elsewhere in interviews that there were additional reasons for his trip. All of them are entirely different from his reason for moving, which he says was to create family with the kids. Overall, that first trip seemed to be greatly summed up in the film. It doesn’t bother me, especially seeing how layered it is. What seems most important is that he met them and it wasn’t his plan.

  • MarcS

    Regardless, I’d much rather have Rocky’s form of Christianity out there in the world than Dick Cheney’s or Jerry Falwell.

  • Sathya

    Dear Tom Roston! I personally & along with my family have been involved with the orphanage & known Rocky. All that is shown in the film are authentic & no hidden facts hence I would invite you to visit India & this orphanage.Please do not sit so far away & try to connect dots BUT experience the reality.

  • Tracy

    Tom, I reevaluated those and was able to find them. But I still have a problem because you make them out to be so negative but in reality- when looked at with scripture, those are perfectly relevant statements. I would challenge you to take a deeper look. Food for thought.

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  • chris

    I uncovered the film’s evangelical Christian roots last February. Thanks for going in-depth and spreading the word. A similar documentary, 2012′s “Mother India”, about Indian street kids, features two 20-something hipsters on their own personal quest. I watched it on Netflix recently. It’s about 45 minutes long with a contribution pitch at the end for a
    locally run orphanage outfit called Harvest India. Similar to Blood
    Brother, it left me wondering who/what is behind it–again,
    evangelicals, as it turns out. For example, RockHarbor, which is listed on
    the film’s website as an organizational sponsor, bills itself as, “a
    Bible-based, Spirit-led, multi-generational church of communities
    learning to live out the Gospel together.”

    Another religious entity–Newport Mesa Church–is also listed as a sponsor. A Google Maps search locates the church on the campus of Vanguard
    University, first chartered as Southern California Bible School and
    located across the road from the Orange County Fairgrounds. According to the school’s website: “Vanguard University is a private, Christian, comprehensive university of
    liberal arts and professional studies equipping students for a
    Spirit-empowered life of Christ-centered leadership and service.”

    The film itself, however, makes no mention of its religious affiliation. Still, as other commenters have noted, good work is being done.

    My
    interest in this stems from my family’s week-long visit to a Catholic
    girls orphanage (run by nuns) in India in 2007, and the subsequent three
    summers where I made periodic visits to parishes around the
    northeastern U.S. speaking at churches and asking for money to build
    more orphanages. That organization, Home of Hope India-U.S., doesn’t hide the
    fact that it’s orphanages are connected with the Catholic Church, so it
    makes me wonder why Blood Brother and Mother India went to such lengths
    to hide their religious affiliations.

    http://www.homeofhopeindia.org/

  • Stephen

    I don’t think I can add much that hasn’t already been said. This “article” came off to me like, “I thought this was a great film until I found out that these guys are evangelical Christians and I’m troubled by that.”

  • none

    I just watch a CNN doc, An Unreal Dream, about a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and was acquitted after serving 25 years in prison. This man, Michael Morton, pleaded with a judge to be gentle on the prosecutor, who put him away, that was now being sentenced for contempt of court for intentionally hiding mitigating evidence, evidence that would have cleared Mr. Morton back in 1987. Why was he so full of mercy towards the man that took away his freedom? Mr. Morton said, that his time in prison afforded him countless hours to self-reflect – allowing him to see all the hurt he has caused others, ALL the wrong he had done in his life. He was able to truly see himself and saw that as a gift. He said the three most important things he learned in prison were:
    God exists.
    God is wise, much wiser than me.
    God loves me (stated with a grin exuding satisfaction).
    There were testimonials from inmates that were touched by his kindness and convicted by his integrity. When he left prison, the whole place cheered for him (in their own prison-ee kind of way). His faith made an huge impact those around him. It was a truly inspiring tale but I doubt that CNN was trying to convert anyone.

    I just watched Blood Brothers earlier this evening and what I saw was a man who met his kinfolk in those children. He saw his childhood pain in their eyes: rejection, abandonment, physical suffering…
    Maybe it is healing to heal others.
    Maybe that’s why his Christian friends, who were from great families, now seemed a bit more distant, foreign to him. Maybe he felt like an alien around them; maybe is was…Maybe that’s why his friend Steve just can’t get him, and never will.
    Because no matter how much you may want to, even to the point of traveling half way around the world, you can’t walk in someone’s shoe’s unless you’ve walked in their shoes. There are some bonds that only suffering creates. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be brothers, just not blood brothers.
    Maybe Rocky felt a bit like an ugly duckling all his life and he finally came to realize he was alway a beautiful swan – he was always beautiful.
    Maybe that’s what this tale is about. Maybe.

  • none

    I just watch a CNN doc, An Unreal Dream, about a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife and was acquitted after serving 25 years in prison. This man, Michael Morton, pleaded with a judge to be gentle on the prosecutor, who put him away, who was now being sentenced for contempt of court for intentionally hiding mitigating evidence, evidence that would have cleared Mr. Morton back in 1987. Why was he so full of mercy towards the man that took away his freedom? Mr. Morton said, that his time in prison afforded him countless hours to self-reflect – allowing him to see all the hurt he has caused others, ALL the wrong he had done in his life. He was able to truly see himself and saw that as a gift. He said the three most important things he learned in prison were:
    God exists.
    God is wise, much wiser than himself
    God loves him (stated with a grin exuding satisfaction).
    There were testimonials from inmates that were touched by his kindness and convicted by his integrity. When he left prison, the whole place cheered for him (in their own prison-ee kind of way). His faith made a huge impact on those around him. It was a truly inspiring tale but I doubt that CNN was trying to convert anyone.

    I just watched Blood Brothers earlier this evening and what I saw was a man who met his kinfolk in those children. He saw his childhood pain in their eyes: rejection, abandonment, physical suffering… [Maybe it's healing to heal others].
    Maybe that’s why his Christian friends, who were from great families, now seemed a bit more distant and even foreign to him. Maybe he felt like an alien around them when they talked about their awesome dads…stuff like that. Maybe that’s why his friend Steve, just can’t get him and never will.
    Because no matter how much you may want to, even to the point of traveling half way around the world, you can’t walk in someone’s shoe’s unless you’ve walked in their shoes. There are some bonds that only suffering creates. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be brothers, just not blood brothers.
    Maybe Rocky felt a bit like an ugly duckling all his life and, in his encounter with these special children, he finally came to realize that he, was actually a beautiful swan – he was always beautiful.
    Maybe that’s what this tale is about. Maybe.

  • David

    I don’t understand the emphasis on the director. To me it pales in comparison to the potential misrepresentation of Rocky. If Rocky is there in any significant part to teach children that Jesus died for their sins and to provide them with an alternative to eternal damnation, I think viewers have a right to know that. Of course the friendship and love he is providing these kids is still valuable, but lots of secular viewers will have strong and in my opinion justified objections to evangelizing to children. If that is misrepresented, I think it is a serious problem with the documentary. I would love to know if Rocky has responded to any of this or clarified whether he is witnessing to these children.

  • Todd

    It sound to me like you have some anti-Christian phobia or something. In your entire rant you make damning accusations but provide no evidence of “evangelical subversion”.

    If I was to use your analytical skills, then “Pulp Fiction” is a condemnation of a barbaric Asian culture. Wow!

    So you have had over a year to go dig up some bones that must be in Hoovers closet. Did you find any disgruntled converts who were forced to pray to Jesus by rocky. Any kids that were tied to the pew and forced to listen to billy Grahm for hours on end before they could eat?

    So tell us…what role does faith play in your life. If I am to understand your article, I think it is only fair that we understand your spiritual world view. Was there an over baring Christian in your past that we should know about?

  • Tom Wilcox

    You are such an ignorant person (ignorant as in uninformed). First, let me say, I am a Christian. I don’t run around town shouting it, I hope that my service to others reflects it. But to head off you accusing me of having other motives in writing this I will state my beliefs. Second, and I will make an assumption here that you are not a Christian (based on beliefs, not title). You don’t tell the reader, do you?. You have probably read War and Peace but it seems that you have not read the bible. If you had, you would know that the bible instructs, no make that mandates, that followers of Jesus Christ go out and “be evangelists”.

    Although you apparently choose to wear your “I dislike Christianity” on your sleeve, those involved in this Independent film have not chosen to wear their Christianity on their sleeve. After all, that’s what you really hate, isn’t it? It seems to me you just have a hard time accepting a Christian for doing selfless, loving work, something you maybe wouldn’t be caught dead doing.

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  • Phyllis

    Is it not unethical for a reviewer to not reveal his own biases, one could also ask? Wow, at the end of this review it left me wondering what the agenda of Mr. Roston was more than what motivated Mr. Braat. I felt there was something not quite right about Roston’s subtle attacks on this beautiful story. Can’t stop wondering what his ulterior motives were?

    How is it right to assign motives to someone by internet research and then jump to conclusions as to what motivated them. Can you see into their hearts and minds and do you have a complete file on their entire life? Apparently Roston thinks he is all knowing, but I wouldn’t want to jump to conclusions as I don’t personally know him.

    This documentary was a study in one man’s journey that led to a selfless life choice. How many of us could do that? But then again no good deed goes unpunished so the saying goes.

    I don’t think I would ever enjoy any film if I had to dissect the lives of everyone that had a part in them in case they may have some influences in their lives that may have shaped their views and reactions to life events that don’t coincide with mine.

  • Indieview

    The film, IMHO, is a masterpiece for the way it portrays the mind and beliefs and actions of, to me, a mystical person.

    But, as we’ve come to know, the film doesn’t present the whole story. To do so probably would have been very difficult without weakening the vision it portrays.

    When watching the film I became aware that there must be events behind the scenes which weren’t shown. Rocky was depicted as travelling to and from India with no visible means of support.

    Thank you Tom for investigating the missing parts of the story wherever they led. I agree with the last paragraph of your review.

    Belief in theism appears closely linked to human experience in the way Joseph Cambell talked about in his ‘The Power of Myth’. Rocky is a believer in a theistic God but what he does doesn’t mandate that.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a non-theist who believes in god, but that’s a topic for another venue.

  • KingP

    Mr. Roston, you are indeed made of stern stuff. Personally, although I am a perpetual skeptic and smartass, could never harbor much suspicion against a guy who is even simply depicted as cleaning the sores of a forgotten kid suffering from the effects of HIV infection. Be he wingnut evangelical, Islamist, Jew or even skinhead, the guy gets a pass.

    Which brings to mind a question, what would your opinion be of a similar figure who was an ethnic hindu, agnostic, or perhaps even an activist African American Christian of the inner-city variety (a subject holding perpetual fascination for many doc filmmakers)?

    • Simon Peter

      Tru dat KingP – Would Roston mind if Rocky was a Jew?

  • LALO

    Mr. Reston,
    Did you watch the documentary?
    Also, if we never knew Mr. Vidal was gay, or Ms. O’Connor Catholic, or Ms. Angelou African-American that would not affect the value of the literature they created. Every story does not have an agenda. I sincerely hope you learn what is relevant and that your editors are very careful.

  • KCgirl

    Just watched this documentary, and googled it because something felt like it was missing. I kept waiting for the narrator to tie the whole thing in to Jesus, and it never happened. Seemed like a glaring oversight. Those boys were totally on some God mission. Found your blog, and everything made so much more sense. It makes me sad to hear that they may be converting the children. Seems like easy prey. I don’t know if Rocky is the person he seems to be in real life. His zealousness in treating the sick without protection of gloves and masks is incredibly risky, and made me uncomfortable for his health, and that of his wife. If he continues in this work ,I hope he takes his good health, itself a gift from God, for those who believe in God, more seriously.

    • cclo

      The fact that he is a christian seems totally irrelevant. There are millions of christians on this planet, yet so few who would sacrifice their own comforts and selflessly set aside their own needs to help others in this way. He is a special and unique young man on the far end of the bell curve for compassion. I find it so sad that you, Tom Roston, or anyone else would feel the need to find a hidden agenda. Is it really so hard to believe that someone can be altruistic? Perhaps for some people it is made especially disturbing when they find it so elusive in themselves. Just luck of the draw I guess.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Your article is so strange to me. I thought that the film’s tension and unanswered questions, the flawed, fragile, organic, and untidy journey was part of it’s charm. I assumed that Rocky might be a Christian at the end of the documentary but honestly I didn’t find it to be a crucial part of the story myself. Which I found odd on my part because I’m a Christian, a missionary, and a pastor’s wife. That type of motivation usually matters to me.

    But honestly the tone of the documentary was refreshing. I liked that their faith in Jesus wasn’t a loud, driving force. Because the lack of clear motive allowed viewers to ask deep questions of themselves. Do I want more out of life? Could I love like that? Why do some people suffer so much, and why are some people able to enter their suffering. I didn’t want to hear Rocky’s or Steve’s answers, I wanted to hear my own.

    Twice in the last year I traveled to a mental institution in Serbia. Love was on my heart. Honestly I did very little “witnessing” mostly I went to see, to learn, to love. Being so far outside of my familiar, so outside of my comfort zone made me feel very humble. If people wanted to know my motivation for coming I told them, but it was on the same level as someone asking why I had eaten and me telling them because I was hungry. In an institution of 600 hundred I didn’t meet one Jesus follower, but I did see love and amazingly beautiful humanity. God is bigger than the boxes we try to put him in, and so are people. Sometimes we need to just accept beauty and love where we find it. In a Christian, in a Hindu, in an atheist. Trying to analyze it just destroys the mystery and wonder. Even if Rocky is flawed and Steve’s motives unclear that they showed up at all is amazing.

    Also I think imagination allows that our motivations change, our purposes shift. And to ever presume to know a heart makes me hesitate. Questioning the motivation of a man who held a dying boy oozing the life out of every pore seems a bit like kicking a puppy.

  • sherry

    I don’t understand why it matters if Rocky is a Christian or not? I saw the documentary and just felt it was about a really unselfish guy who fell in love with these kids and wants to help. So what if he is a Christian or so what if he isnt? You make it sound like being a Christian and helping people is a bad thing. Why are you trying to taint the wonderful things this man is doing? U must be a very jaded person to want to try and find some “shadowy” connection behind all this.

  • alex

    Tom Roston’s prejudiced review distorts facts and makes illogical stretches (the word ‘brother’ is suddenly a Christian-only word? That’s absurd). You can read Hoover’s response to all allegations on the film’s website. He eloquently addresses their independence from their religion in the making of this film and, with great civility, dismantles Roston’s argument.

    Not only does Roston stretch the truth, he misses the point completely. It does not matter whether Rocky is Christian, Muslim, atheist, white, black, or orange. Personally, I am not religious, but I respect that a wide range of spiritualities and religions shape human character. I do not accuse my Buddhist friends of helping me with ulterior Buddhist motives nor would I accuse Braat and Hoover, who happen to be Christian, of helping children for ulterior Christian motives. Their actions show incredible selflessness and compassion and Braat works every day to alleviate the suffering of children without pressing his own personal beliefs onto any of them; who cares if he’s Christian or any other religion?

  • Phil

    Tom,

    Get back to me when you’ve spent any amount of time cleaning the sores on hopeless child’s eyes. My guess is that your point of view will be less cynical and more compassionate. Regardless of religious affiliation, it’s the work with the children that matters, work that very few people are willing to commit their lives to doing.
    Are you willing, Tom?

  • Y

    I think this article was interesting. Honestly, I would have liked to hear more about their beliefs in the film; nevertheless, the fact that the children were motivated to become Christians based on the love Rocky showed, doesn’t mean that he was preaching to them. Our lives preach all the time without words, whatever the message may be (religious or not). Moreover, I would rather learn true Christianity from someone living like Jesus as Rocky did, than from someone whose religion and life don’t match up. Also, I went on the church’s website and read what this article quoted regarding evangelism, etc. It is only part of what is said; therefore, listing it as an individual statement depicts the church’s beliefs and goals out of context.
    I don’t think you were trying to badmouth the film, but maybe it was read into a bit much by making the film about ulterior motives (had they been there or not). I for one, am glad that a Christian is trying to live love for people (which he did not do because there would be a film made about it one day; he’s not a film kind of guy from what the movie shows) – rather than not walking the talk. That’s inspiring. Maybe try to see the movie one more time without a journalist lens. One day, on your own, as just Tom. I would love to know what you think.

  • Francis White

    Nice job Tom !!! Spoken like a true atheist!! Hope your having fun with the devil!!

  • Kay

    Wow, aren’t you just missing the point?

  • Jimenez

    If that’s the best criticism this film gets after digging around in the dark areas of Blood Brother or so it seems, then that is a serious waste of time.
    I’ve heard better made up accusations then this against other individuals, I don’t think the makers of Blood Brother should even bother acknowledging such criticism.
    If we are going to question the religious or political agenda of an individual helping others then maybe someone has to do a bit of ‘digging around’ about the writer of this article like Tom does about Blood Brother.
    Just my two cents but writing an article like this puts the author in the line of fire… If that’s what he wants then okay…
    I am Christian, I have gone and helped people in Nepal not because of my church or a religious aspect, but maybe just because I have been taught not to be selfish and to go out and help others once in a while rather than serve my own ego.
    I just find it very sad that people can no longer have their own belief without being overly criticized or being overly generalized.
    I suppose you can be faced with quite a bit of opposition doing something good…

    I think it is fair to say that writing this article in my opinion, without the author’s response of his aspect of spirituality and his faith, is dumb.
    Not offended but is simply not smart since you are questioning someone else’s beliefs. And since you mentioned Barrack Obama…
    Politicians have one thing in common in the stance of criticizing each other, they make their beliefs known, lies or not lies, they make a standing belief that others vote on. The ones that don’t do not get voted in because if they do not believe in something nobody votes for them or sees the point of them being there, its that simple.
    So all I am saying is put your opinion out there otherwise many will think this is just simply anti-christian propaganda.

    Too personal agenda of an article to really enjoy even reading to be honest… :/

  • Dan MacGillivray

    I find it odd Tom that you would desire to “get to the bottom” of Hoover’s intentions of making the film. As if to say that Christianity (because of current or past evangelistic outreach into the developing world) some how makes the love and compassion that comes across in the film invalid. If Hoover’s or Braat’s faith are indeed relevant in the discussion of this film, does that mean the care and love they gave and Rocky continues to give is underhanded and deceitful? I guess your quest to seek out their true intentions is nothing short of sad. You’ve managed to take an amazing story of sacrifice, suffering and love and turn it into an evangelical witch hunt.

  • ProudHumanist

    I agree with you 100%. Just watched the film on Netflix, then started googling to find out more–updates, etc. As soon as I found the Christian connection things fell together and completely changed the meaning of the film. There’s an ulterior motive behind it and it’s deceitful of the filmmaker and Rocky Braat to try and keep that angle out of the film.

  • Lkove

    Thank you Mr. Roston for doing the research and putting words to the underlying doubt I felt while watching this film.

    I will admit to being deeply moved by the acts performed by Bratt, the staff at the orphanage and the children who inhabit it. From what I could see many acts of generosity, selflessness and love contributed positively to the lives of the families within the orphanage.

    However, there were numerous instances during the viewing of this film when I was struck with unease regarding the portrayal of Bratt as selfless saviour as well as the portrayal of the community where he worked. As Roston mentioned, the instances when Bratt and Hoover sought comfort from the children in the orphanage during their times of grief struck me as unprofessional as well as possibly manipulative / damaging behaviour. For example, when the young girl dies half way through the film, I found it inappropriate for Bratt to relay the details of her death and seek emotional support from a child living in the orphanage.

    Also, related to the girl’s death mentioned above, both Hoover and Bratt express frustration that she was not taken to the hospital before becoming mortally ill. No discussion regarding the subjects of poverty, access to services, poor education or skepticism of institutions were suggested as possible barriers to her family seeking medical care. What was portrayed was that the community’s faith and social practices alone prevented a visit to the hospital. Considering that Bratt had decided to marry into the community portrayed in this film, I would have thought some research into the daily circumstances of the inhabitants warranted.

    And this leads to my final observation, at no point are people from the community interviewed about their lives, beliefs and practices. Bratt mentioned that the community was outraged to find out that the orphanage cared for children and families living with HIV. I also got the impression that Bratt disapproved of the community’s response. As a health care worker I am well aware of the stigma, fear and misconceptions often linked to HIV and AIDS in almost all cultural settings. I would have thought someone working within the HIV community would have been aware of these social barriers and would have done some legwork within the community regarding.

    In conclusion, Blood Brothers is an evocative portrait of one man’s struggle to find his place in the world. Unfortunately, it’s portrayal of the the international medical relief work performed by this man is lacking in depth and analysis. As such, I did respond emotionally to the powerful acts of kindness perpetrated by the protagonist and others in the film. However, my need for transparency in documentary film making culminating in a thorough analysis of as many points of view of the topic portrayed was lacking. I do believe this discrepancy is a result of the predominantly faith based perspective of the filmmakers. Acts of God do not need the same rigorous research expected of geopolitical or social science phenomena.

  • pkisme

    ..sigh..

    let’s all ban all works (movies, music, novels.. etc) by all people of faith then.. since you wouldn’t know what motive(s) they have.